It all felt perfect. We were at the Whitney for Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough’s Proenza Schouler show. The museum is empty at the moment— awaiting the Metropolitan’s first show there in 2016 now that the Whitney is relocating to the bottom end of the High Line. Still, how exactly did they swing it? “Friends of friends of friends,” according to Hernandez. He and McCollough said they were looking at the work of the New York School artists for Fall. They name-checked the Abstract Expressionist painter Helen Frankenthaler and the minimalist sculptor Robert Morris. There was an off-the-shoulder top and matching midi skirt made from needle-punched crimson chiffon that looked like it’d been taken to with a black paint roller, and there were thick felt suits and coats with heavy, twisty lapel appendages.
Alongside Frankenthaler’s drippy canvases and Morris’ voluptuous wall hangings, the other muses of this collection were the fur coat-wearing creatures Hernandez and McCollough saw in photographs of late 1940s-era art openings. They were the inspiration behind otherwise straightforward dresses with mohawks of multicolored fox outlining the shoulders, and the eyeleted chiffon finale dresses with more of that fuzzy fringe that lit up Instagram afterward with captions ranging from “Vegas showgirls” to “Mad Max” to “warrior princesses from outer space.”
The designers’ work over the last few years has felt very process-oriented, you can see the hand in the clothes, but this was their most technically ambitious collection yet. Knit dresses were slashed at various places on the midriff, and evening dresses that swirled around the body leaving wide swaths of it uncovered were densely embroidered with sequins. The seamstresses who stitched them kept a count: All told, more than 300,000 were used. All of this was set against thick black fishnet stockings and stacked-heel mules adorned with piles of plastic fringe. No doubt about it, Hernandez and McCollough took chances with this collection. Where there’s no risk there’s no reward, but a lot of the time their experimental materials ended up feeling awkward or heavy. The audience tonight, starved of genuine experimentation in New York, will be in raptures about this show, but Hernandez and McCollough should look beyond their acolytes and examine who their customer at retail really is. The best things here were those art gallery dresses. They’ll look great at the Whitney’s grand opening in May.